Joanne Pellew is the CEO of Ochre Workforce Solutions and is also the managing director of iWork. In these executive leadership positions, Joanne has overseen an extended period of success and is responsible for substantially closing the indigenous unemployment gap in Australia.

Joanne, widely regarded as Australia’s leading indigenous employment expert, is a Noongar woman who won a scholarship to attend Murdoch University to study a HR management  and  Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Joanne quickly realised that University wasn’t for her. Dedicated to utilising her entrepreneurial acumen in support of the indigenous Australian workforce, Joanne relied on a strictly commercial business model when she initially founded Ochre Workforce Solution and iWork, thereby ensuring the long-term commercial viability of the socially responsible mission at the core of her company.

What do you do for work?

I’m the CEO of Ochre Workforce Solutions, which was founded on a labour hire, and recruitment model. We’ve since expanded our focus and have added an RTO (registered training organisation) to the business. We also recently introduced the iWork platform, an indigenous jobs site, which is a separate entity servicing a completely different market whilst still being centred on Indigenous job creation

Why did you choose to pursue a career in the field in which you currently work?

As a Noongar woman, I feel it’s my responsibility to pursue entrepreneurial endeavours that support the indigenous community in Australia. One of the principal reasons I founded Ochre Workforce Solutions was as a way to make a tangible difference in the lives of members of the indigenous community.

I also focus so much on this area because I know how much a job means to any individual. The improvement in self-esteem, feeling a part of society, having a purpose, moving out of poverty, providing for your family and the positive flow on effects to all areas of your life and that around it simply by having a job. That is the case with all human beings but those elements are multiplied by 100 times for an Indigenous person. This is especially the case if they have grown up in abject poverty, been through the justice system, been marginalised, disadvantaged, discriminated against their whole lives. I understand, I get it because I come from that life. I have been blessed with an ability to take all the negatives that have happened to me and turn them into positives. I have taken my lived experiences, learnt from them and asked myself what I can do with that awareness and information. How can I use my experiences and knowledge that not many other people in the mainstream world have about my people and our lives, our adversities, our challenges but also our strengths, our resilience and culture? I answered my own questions with this answer, I know I have the solutions to a massive problem, I know I have the ability to create change, I know I have knowledge that not many other people have, I have a deep empathy for my people, I know I have the power of my old people behind me and I don’t ever want to get to the end of my life and have to face those people and make excuses about why I didn’t use my abilities to help my people. I’ve had to deal with discrimination (still to today), road blocking, white anting, negative comments, judgement and everything else that comes with a level of success or feelings of being a threat but they all need to know that I’m not stopping, I’m making my way forward despite what they say because I have a mission to complete. I have an army of people behind me who need me to create change for them.

In what way does your professional role make it possible for you to have a positive impact on others?

When I first founded Ochre Workforce Solutions, the unemployment gap among indigenous Australians was a serious problem that needed to be addressed. Over the past few years, we’ve had an impact in closing that unemployment gap in a reasonable way but there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done going forward. In my professional role I have the advantage of being able to meet with large and medium sized employers around the country who may or may not have Indigenous employment targets to meet. If they do have targets, I am able to offer them access into the Indigenous community to find the right people to employ which helps them to meet their targets. If the company doesn’t have targets then I have the ability to articulate why it’s important from a social, moral, corporate and commercial perspective as to why they should employ Indigenous people into their companies. In most cases the companies appreciate the sharing of such information and knowledge and then want to employ Indigenous people.

On the other hand, the positive impact to Indigenous people is to place them into meaningful and sustainable employment which has immeasurable positive flow on effects back into their individual families and also collectively across the Indigenous community. The more Indigenous people employed and making a decent income, the more likelihood the social problems that plague the Indigenous community as a whole, will begin to diminish in an organic way, simply by people have jobs and self-worth.

What is it that you enjoy most about living in Perth, Western Australia, Australia?

Perth is my spiritual home where my ancestors are from. I feel a strong sense of connection to land beneath my feet when in Perth. I often get homesick and can’t wait to get home even if I am only gone for a few days. I have a deep pride and appreciation of the natural beauty and pristine locations around Perth. One of my favourite things to do is take regular walks along the Swan River foreshore. I find this therapeutic and being close to the Derribal Yirrigan (the Swan River), seems to re-energise me. I also love the familiarity, vast knowledge of local landmarks and history that I have of my home town, it enriches one’s sense of belonging. Perth has hot summers, which I love and the winters are usually mild and bearable. My AFL team, the Fremantle Dockers are from Perth and I get to go to all of their home games, which is one of my favourite past times.

What do you do for recreation?

I am on a fitness routine at the moment which includes going to the gym in the early hours most mornings; I enjoy my afternoon walks along the Swan River foreshore. During the AFL season I attend the Fremantle Dockers home games every second weekend. Other than that, I spend a lot of time with my daughter having long lunches or even longer dinners having a laugh and trying to solve the World’s problems at many of our favourite eating spots all around Perth. I also love reading and tend to read a lot of articles that are relevant to my industries in my free time.

If you could travel anywhere outside of Australia, where would you go and why?

I have travelled extensively around Australia due to my work which I am grateful for as I wanted to see as much of Australia as I could before I went travelling around the World. My ultimate trip would be around Europe especially Italy, France and Greece. I love the history and the food of those places. I studied Renaissance Art in High School and got an ‘A’ for it, ever since then I’ve wanted to travel through the European art galleries.

Aussie rules football, cricket, rugby or something else?

My whole life has revolved around AFL football and I’m a passionate Dockers supporter. I also love watching the swimming at the Olympic Games and the Wimbledon Finals, other than that not much other sport gets my attention.

Is there an Australian you admire or who has had a profound influence on you personally or professionally? Explain.

Of all the Australian’s I’ve read about and seen, the one I most admire is Kerry Packer even though he passed away a while ago. I loved his no nonsense style, high intelligence and unparalleled acumen for business. According to his book, his public persona was quite rude, arrogant and dismissive but behind closed doors he was a very caring and generous man who gave a lot to his main causes without putting up a fuss about it. His confidence and quick wit when dealing with the media or any high level Government official is also something I like about his style. He suffered no fools. I like those type of straight out kind of people, you always know where you stand.

What advice would you give to a first-time visitor to Australia?

If I was a first time visitor to Australia, I wouldn’t be coming as part of a large group of people from the same country to trek through a strict itinerary of the main tourist destinations. I would come in a more personal group and experience the real Australia by reaching out to locals for local knowledge and their advice on the best places to visit, at what times to get the best experiences. I’ve seen the bus tour companies with hundreds of people doing mainstream activities like going to shopping centres, or walking through the city, or cruising down the river that looks like every other river winding through a city. They are not very unique experiences that you will remember forever. Every city has shopping centres and CBD and rivers. I would prefer to have uniquely Australian experiences like camping in beautiful outback locations, visiting some of the world’s best beaches, visiting Indigenous art and culture exhibitions, seeing our native animals in the wild, eating Australian fresh seafood etc.  

What is the funniest or strangest question a tourist has ever asked you about Australia?

Nearly every Asian tourist has said before they got to Australia, they thought that kangaroos and koalas would be everywhere and then when they get here, they can never see one. Other tourists in the big cities like Sydney always ask where the Aboriginal people are. That’s always funny.